The Proper Flowers to Leave on a Gravestone—and What They Mean

Flowers that share your sentiments.

Sympathy Flowers
The white lily is frequently used as a sympathy flower. Photo: Zelma Brezinska/EyeEm/Getty Images

Leaving flowers on the graves of loved ones is a special practice. Many times, when we tend the graves of those we've lost, we leave arrangements of flowers we think they would have liked or flowers that we know were their favorites in life. It's a meaningful way to honor those who've passed, but there is also a special significance to the flowers that we leave. Each and every plant has a history and a host of symbolic meanings that convey something deeper. Many signify themes or emotions connected to affection, faith, or loss. Flowers can represent feelings from sorrow and regret to pride and devotion. They can recognize the sacrifice of a deceased veteran or admiration for a lost friend.

The practice of leaving flowers at gravesites reaches back thousands of years into ancient cultures around the world. But many of the meanings we associate with flowers today were popularized during Victorian times. Flowers carved onto gravestones also had special meaning: A pair of intertwined roses demonstrated the strong bond of a couple, while a broken blossom indicated a life lost too soon.

So before decorating a gravesite or sending flowers to a funeral, contemplate their meaning. As with anything, there are certain etiquette considerations to keep in mind when sending funeral flowers.

"There are some situations when flowers are not appropriate," said Diane Gottsman, an international etiquette expert, author, and founder of the Protocol School of Texas. "Make sure it does not conflict with a custom or a religious tradition. Sometimes, people are allergic or sensitive to a particular scent. Most often, flowers are a lovely and most appropriate gesture."

After you've chosen your flowers, it can be hard to find the right words to convey your sympathy in a card. Our editors have put together an extensive list of sympathy messages you can include in your card with flowers for a funeral.

Read on to learn some of the symbolic meanings of popular plants and flowers, and spend time thinking about your choices so that you share just the right message with the arrangement you send.

Funeral and Gravestone Flower Symbolism

Amaryllis: beauty, determination, pride

Anemone: protection, anticipation, and sacrifice

Aster: patience, love, and wisdom

Blue iris: hope and faith

Calla lily: faith, purity, and holiness

Camellia: love and devotion

Camellia. Linda Burgess/Getty Images

Chamomile: patience and fidelity

Chrysanthemum: white chrysanthemums can represent sorrow or devotion; meaning varies from culture to culture

Cornflower: hope

Crimson rose: mourning and sorrow

Daffodil: rebirth and hope

Daisy: innocence, purity, and happiness

Fern: sincerity and humility

Forget-me-not: remembrance

Gardenia: purity and sweetness

Gladiolus: strength and integrity, remembrance and honor

Hyacinth: forgiveness and devotion

Hyacinth. Garden Photo World/Georgianna Lane/Getty Images

Hydrangea: honesty and gratitude, amends and understanding

Ivy: loyalty, faithfulness, friendship

Larkspur: first love, openheartedness

Lavender: devotion, admiration, and beauty

Lilac: innocence, tranquility, and charity

Lily: purity and beauty

Lily-of-the-valley: chastity and sweetness

Magnolia: nobility, endurance, perseverance

Marigold: grief and remembrance; associated with Day of the Dead

Morning glory: affection and friendship

Orchid: love, beauty, and strength

Pansy: sincerity and thoughtfulness

Peony: honor and compassion

Pink carnation or rose: appreciation

Poppy: consolation and remembrance; connected specifically to the remembrance of World War I

Purple iris: wisdom and royalty

Ranunculus: charm

Rosemary: remembrance; the use of this herb dates back to burial practices in ancient Egypt and Rome

Red carnation or rose: love and affection; a dark red rose symbolizes grief and sorrow

Roses. Garden Photo World/Georgianna Lane/Getty Images

Rue: sorrow and repentance

Sunflower: adoration and loyalty

Tulip: confidence, affection, and enduring love

Yellow carnation or rose: friendship and gratitude

White iris: purity and faith

White carnation or rose: purity, innocence, and sympathy

Violet: devotion, faithfulness, and friendship

Zinnia: friendship, remembrance, and goodness

What are your most-loved flowers? Do you have special arrangements for the graves of loved ones who have passed?

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